Treasures from the Vault: Stuart Fink

Sachi Yanari-Rizzo, Curator of Prints & Drawings

Stuart Fink was born in St. Paul and grew up in Wilmer, Minnesota, in the western part of the state. He studied at the University of Minnesota with Walter Quirt before earning his B.F.A. (1971) and M.F.A. (1973) from the University of Cincinnati.  

For the first part of his career, Fink created figurative paintings with increasingly complex compositions but later transitioned into working in three dimensions. The artist explained, “I painted for 20 years, but I felt the shapes I was working with could be read better visually if they were cut out.”i Throughout the rest of his career, Fink created small constructions and large-scale outdoor sculpture in bronze, wood, aluminum, concrete, and granite.  

Fink used drawings to develop his ideas. The FWMoA owns four untitled works from ca. 1988, one of which is figurative. In this drawing, the artist creates a blocky body with delicate, precise lines in ink. The defined “pecs” on his chest are chunky and rather stone-like, as are his fingers. His faceless head is small compared to the humorously massive body as his arms and legs extend off the page.   

A drawing of a shirtless man, from the torso to the knees, wearing pants with stars on them and pockets.
Stuart Fink, American, 1938-2021. Untitled. Ink on paper, ca. 1988. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tom G. McClain, 1990.21. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

Fink drew with graphite pencil in his three other sketches. He began with architectural forms—arches and fluted columns—but departed from tradition by making them fanciful and whimsical. The artist drew with broad, simple strokes that resulted in contours and variation in tone all at once. Fink created movement by adding abstract shapes, which he refers to as glyphs, stacking them in opposite directions and interlocking them like a jigsaw puzzle. Even the ground is a rhythmic pattern of dashes with overlapping curves and ripples.  

Located on the northwest side of the building, Fink’s outdoor sculpture, Station, welcomes visitors walking from the parking lot to the FWMoA entrance. It consists of a variety of discretely shaped sections, some resembling abstract clouds or waves, fragments of an arm, and architectural elements. These forms pile on top of one another and, when viewed in entirety, they loosely follow the configuration of a column.  

A geometric, abstract sculpture on the grounds of FWMoA on a sunny day.
Stuart Fink, American, 1938-2021. Station. Pigmented, cast concrete, 1986. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tom G. McClain, 1992.16. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

Fink fashioned this playful column from concrete, pigmented in pink and grey. For the artist, it was an easily accessible, inexpensive alternative to aluminum. His choice of subject or material does not initially seem rooted in tradition. The column, however, was a prominent element in the construction of antique Greek and Roman buildings; the Romans invented concrete.  

European sculptors Alexander Archipenko, Henry Moore, and Wilhelm Lehmbruck first began experimenting with the material in the 1910s-1920s. It is strong and can be cast or carved. By the mid-20th century, sculptors began using the materials, scale, and tools of the building industry: Cor-ten steel, I-beams, and concrete.  

Typically, Fink used his drawings as a guide for his concrete sculptures. He cut negatives of his glyphs from Styrofoam blocks with a hot wire. These were molds used in the casting of the individual sections. Station is composed of five sections. As in the construction of concrete structures in the city, Fink reinforced his cast pieces with steel rods.  

Fink’s drawings and sculpture share his preference for stark geometric shapes yet exude a lightheartedness. He was fascinated by the relationship between contrasting forms, lines, negative and positive space, and textures. He commented, “These shapes are often contained within their own structures. The whole is then the sum of its related and unrelated parts and there can be many parts. . . Nothing is preconceived; rather it is an additive process. . . Finally, I see in many of these pieces vague metaphors for our complex and interrelated world.”ii 

A drawing of two lined columns topped by geometric shapes. In between the columns is another geometric, abstract sculpture.
Stuart Fink, American, 1938-2021. Untitled. Graphite pencil on paper, ca. 1988. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Tom G. McClain, 1990.25. Image courtesy of FWMoA. 

When Fink was in his seventies, he developed Parkinson’s Disease and a degenerative neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome. This caused significant hand tremors and limited his ability to create sculptures. Despite this, the artist continued to make drawings. Fink’s gallery, the Brandt-Roberts Galleries in Columbus, Ohio, introduced him to Tom Mackessy, an art collector who was drawn to the artist’s geometric compositions. Fink spoke of his desire to translate his designs into metal. Mackessy, who owns a sheet metal company, realized that his factory’s machines could help. Plant workers scanned Fink’s drawings and used a high-pressure, water-jet system to cut steel, sometimes taking 10 hours for the machine to cut. This enabled Fink to work in sculpture once again. Back in his studio, he assembled the pieces and experimented with surface finishes. Their collaboration yielded around 40 sculptures. 

Well before the rise in public art seen in Fort Wayne recently, Fink received commissions for outdoor pieces in the 1980s-1990s, for which he is best known. Sometimes his works incorporate spaces and seating to engage viewers. Fink’s completed public commissions are primarily located throughout Ohio: Columbus, Lima, Miami University, Toledo, and in Cincinnati.  

i Kathy Doane, “Stuart Fink: An Artist with Concrete Ideas,” Tristate Magazine (3 August 1986): 14. 

ii The Art of Stuart Fink (Cincinnati: Earthward Bound Foundation, 2009), 37. 

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